This story first appeared on VA’s Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System’s website.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Seaman 1st Class Eugene Woodrow Wicker, only 20 years old, was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese launched their infamous surprise attack.

Wicker, a radio operator, was on duty that Sunday morning and sounded the alarm of the Japanese attack. But nine Japanese torpedoes quickly capsized the battleship and Wicker was one of 429 Sailors and Marines from the USS Oklahoma crew to die.

By the time the military finally raised USS Oklahoma in 1946, remains of the crew could not be identified, and were buried in Pearl Harbor.

“We have waited so long for him to be home”

Thanks to modern DNA technology, Wicker’s remains were identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. On Aug. 3, after more than 76 years, Wicker’s remains returned to Oklahoma.IMAGE eaman 1st Class Eugene Woodrow Wicker, in uniform

The following day, the native of Coweta, Oklahoma was laid to rest with full military honors at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson.

Renee Miller, Eugene Wicker’s great niece, attended the service at Fort Gibson on Aug. 4 and said she wished her dad and grandmother could have witnessed Wicker returning home.

“The service was wonderful,” said Miller. “I can’t believe the full military service. Nanny would have been so proud. She was real close to him, and mourned him until she died. I just wish my dad could be here to see this.”

Miller said Wicker’s homecoming means the world to the family.

“He’s going to live on,” said Miller. “Especially now that he’s home. We have waited so long for him to be home.”

Fort Gibson National Cemetery staff proud to serve

 William Rhoades, director, Fort Gibson/Fort Sill National Cemeteries, said the service was humbling for him, especially since he spent time in Pearl Harbor during his U.S. Coast Guard career.

“For anyone who has ever gone in and out of Pearl Harbor, manned the rails and paid their respects to the USS Arizona and battleship row, it’s a quiet, somber experience that you never forget,” said Rhoades.

Clyde Settlemyre, a caretaker at Fort Gibson National Cemetery, also served in Hawaii with the U.S. Marine Corps.

IMAGE: A sailor presents a flag to the family of Seaman 1st Class Eugene Woodrow Wicker“Today’s service kind of comes full circle for me because in 1982, I had the privilege of being stationed in Hawaii,” said Settlemyre. “We pulled into Pearl Harbor on deployments. It’s just a great honor to be here for the family.”

Settlemyre, who assists in burials and maintains the grounds and graves at Fort Gibson National Cemetery, said his profession as a caretaker is the greatest honor of his life.

“Every one of these men and women are heroes,” said Settlemyre. “That’s why I came to work here. I also have family members that are buried here. It’s just an honor.”

Rhoades also said it is a great honor to serve the more than 21,000 heroes that are interred at Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my career,” he said. “It’s an honor, every day. When you wake up in the morning and you come in and you have the sun coming in over the east, you have dew on the grass, the headstones are all aligned, it’s just an incredible feeling.”

Nate Schaeffer is a public affairs specialist with the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System.

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Published on Aug. 7, 2018

Estimated reading time is 3 min.

Views to date: 187


  1. Jerry Clemens August 14, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    It was a honor to read abut this hero’s burial
    Hopefully the remains of the Korean War veterans being retuned to the US will also be awarded burial with full military honors

  2. gary ockunzzi August 14, 2018 at 5:46 am

    Coming up on 5 years this Veterans Day, I have been putting 2 small flags on veterans day: 1 for the veteran that lies there in his/her final resting place, and 1 for veterans that “never made it back home.” My little one man band organization is calls Some Never Came Home. I do this to honor my 3 buddies/shipmates that lost their lives while on active duty in the U.S Navy and we had to bury them at sea. Witnessing fellow shipmates being buried at sea was the saddest and most stressful event of my life. My heart broke for their families back home, as there really is no complete closure for them (no gravesite back home to visit). This article is so encouraging.

  3. Raymond Newcomb August 13, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    Welcome home, now rest in peace

  4. BERNABE ROYBALIII August 13, 2018 at 7:08 pm


  5. Paul August 13, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Touching post finally home

  6. Michael Briggs August 13, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    We have Woody’s portrait and Purple Heart award in a place of honor in our home and have prayed for his return for many years. My wife, Karen (Ezell) Briggs, is also his great-niece. We wish we had known of this ceremony, we would absolutely have attended. Welcome home, Woody, and rest in peace.

  7. ELOISE ELFAND August 13, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    We never leave them they are our heros

  8. Jeff Kemhus August 13, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    I can’t help but become a little misty eyed when I read stories like this. God bless Seaman 1st Class Eugene Wicker.

  9. leonard francis boyer August 13, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    honor to have back home

  10. Michael Watson August 13, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    I had the honor, along with fellow members of the Colorado Patriot Guard, to provide military honors in support of the Denver Naval Operations Support Center in the re-internment of the remains of GM2 William Helstrom here in Denver. GM2 Helstrom was also killed in action on December 7, 1941 while serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. It is a, and always be an honor to continue serving our nation and our fellow servicemembers, either long past, serving now, or those who answer the call in the future.

  11. Tim Leahey August 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    I believe ALL of our lost veterans should be brought home from their current resting places. I have been at the cemetery in Manila and I believe all of those who lost their lives in WWII should be returned to their hometowns. tl

  12. edward v. gorman August 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    god bless this young man who gave his life for this country so many years ago.god also bless all the folks who can now have a place to go and honor his memory.
    SGT. ed gorman
    a vietnam vet

  13. K.C. Alvers SFM2 USN USS OKINAWA LPH-3 August 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Welcome Home Wicker, Your Sacrifice will not be forgotten. Smooth Sailing Squid!

    • Yvette Michelle Martin August 14, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      Rest In Peace! You have served your country well. Your “DUTY” has been accomplished. “NEVER FORGOTTEN”

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